Hollywood tests the number of stars that can make up the cast of a single movie

Billboards for

Billboards for “Don’t Look Up” show Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, along Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, California on December 16, 2021. (Mark Abramson / The New York Times)

LOS ANGELES – On Friday, Netflix premiered on its platform “Don’t Look Up,” a big-budget satire starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Tyler Perry, Ariana Grande, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and Timothée Chalamet.

It certainly seemed like a must-see movie, regardless of the mixed reviews. It’s not every day that you have such a magnificent cast, a stellar celebrity parade.

Only now that type of distribution is common.

A star playing Spiderman? How austere. “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which opened in theaters on December 17, features three stars in the superhero’s tight-fitting suit: Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire. “No Way Home,” a massive international box office hit, grossing $ 1.05 billion for Sony Pictures Entertainment through Sunday, also stars Zendaya, Jamie Foxx, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Willem Dafoe and Jon Favreau. About 43 percent of US opening weekend viewers cited the cast as the reason they bought tickets, according to PostTrak polls. 20 percent specifically cited Zendaya.

Guillermo del Toro’s latest art film, “Alley of Lost Souls,” stars Bradley Cooper, Blanchett, Toni Collette, Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Mary Steenburgen, and David Strathairn. (Between them they add 22 nominations to the Oscars of acting and three victories). Other recent examples of star ensembles are “The French Chronicle,” “Red Alert,” “The Gucci House,” “The Fall Will Be Harder,” and the superhero story “Eternals,” which Disney marketed under eleven celebrity names. (Angelina Jolie! Kumail Nanjiani! Salma Hayek!)

In the coming months, Universal will release “355,” an espionage “thriller” starring five female stars, including Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz and Jessica Chastain. Disney will premiere a new stellar version of “Death on the Nile”, and Focus Features prepares “Downton Abbey: A New Era”, which brings together the cast of the franchise. Netflix is ​​working on “The Adam Project,” a science fiction adventure (Ryan Reynolds, Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Catherine Keener), and “The Gray Man,” a thriller starring Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Ryan Gosling, Billy Bob Thornton and Regé-Jean Page, from “Bridgerton.”

“Someday, someone will decide to make a movie with two Batman … ah, wait, that’s already happening,” said Terry Press, one of Hollywood’s leading marketers, with characteristic coldness. He was referring to “The Flash,” a Warner Bros. superhero movie slated for release at the end of next year; Ben Affleck’s Batman will appear alongside Michael Keaton’s Batman.

If we look at the example of individual films, the grouping of celebrities is nothing new. “Grand hotel” (1932), “The parade of the stars” (1943), “The world is crazy, crazy, crazy” (1963), “Twelve from the gallows” (1967), “Hell in The Tower ”(1974) and the entire“ Big Scam ”franchise, not to mention recent Marvel“ Avengers ”movies.

However, suddenly, they are everywhere.

Why?

“Stars matter – they have always been and always will be – and Hollywood takes refuge in them, leans more on them, when it gets nervous about a wandering audience,” explained Jeanine Basinger, film scholar and author of Hollywood chronicles. like “The Star Machine”, which explores the old studio system. “The stars are insurance: for studio executives who want to keep their jobs, no doubt, but also for viewers: ‘Will this movie be worth my time and money?'”

Describing the Hollywood audience as “wandering” is an understatement. “Missing” might be a more appropriate term.

The pandemic appears to have accelerated a worrying decline in the box office of longtime dramas, musicals and comedies, except for the colossal fantasy franchises and the occasional horror movie. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” grossed $ 260 million in the United States and Canada on its opening weekend. Total ticket sales in both countries totaled $ 283 million, according to Comscore. That means “No Way Home” took 92 percent of the market. “The Alley of Lost Souls,” which premiered the same weekend, was screened in practically empty cinemas. It raised $ 2.7 million.

The vast majority of “No Way Home” opening weekend ticket buyers were under the age of 34, according to Sony.

Between Friday and Sunday, spider men remained the nation’s top attraction, grossing nearly $ 81.5 million. Animated film “Sing 2” (Universal-Illumination) came in second with $ 23.8 million in ticket sales. Warner Bros. failed to generate much interest for “The Matrix Resurrections,” which earned a meager $ 12 million for third place; It could also be seen on HBO Max.

Disney’s “The King’s Man,” the third film in Matthew Vaughn’s action-comedy series, grossed $ 6.4 million, a result one box office analyst described as a “collapse” of the franchise. (“American Underdog,” a religion-related sports drama from Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company, raised $ 6.2 million on Saturday and Sunday alone).

Basinger, who founded the department of film studies at Wesleyan University, noted that individual star power has faded. Studios have become obsessed with intellectual property – franchises and pre-existing characters. As a result, there has been less need to create new stars and keep old ones on a pedestal; Iron Man, Dominic Toretto, Wonder Woman and Baby Yoda are now the stars.

“In the days of yore, movie stars were the brands,” he explained. “They reached the entire audience, not just a fragment. To all. But that’s over now. Now, it’s about reaching the niches. “

In other words, few stars remain profitable on their own, requiring Hollywood to pool deals with an almost absurd number of celebrities. The canopies must be flooded.

And let’s not forget Hollywood’s favorite game: follow the leader. “Avengers: Endgame”, which packed its cast with Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Boseman, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Olsen and a dozen other renowned celebrities, became one of the highest-grossing films of all time in 2019. On a very different scale, a 2017 remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” with all the stars also won at the box office.

“It’s all the rage right now,” said Tim Palen, producer and former studio marketing director, of what he called a “group” approach to casting. “It is not new, but it is certainly symptomatic of the battle for attention that is being waged.”

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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